How to Modify a Child Custody Agreement in Illinois

Child custody can often be the most contentious issue between parents going through divorce, or at least one of the most anxiety-ridden, because parents want to spend as much time as possible with their children. In Illinois, a child custody agreement can be updated or changed, but the ease of modification depends on the circumstances. A child custody order can be changed by agreement of the parents or when a substantial change has occurred.

Changing a Custody Order by Agreement

An agreement means both parents understand and agree to all proposed changes to a child custody order. Parents should understand how the changes will impact their parental rights, and a good starting point is reviewing the original child custody order. If a parent does not have a copy of his or her custody order, one can be obtained from the circuit clerk's office in the county where the case was heard.

A change in custody may mean that the child moves in with the other parent, visitation time changes, or questions about child-rearing are settled differently, among others. If parents agree to the proposed changes, legal documents must still be filed with the court to ask a judge to change the order.

For the change to be legal, the judge must approve the agreement and grant the requested changes. Without a judge's approval, a parent acting under the changes may be in violation of the original order and subject to legal penalties. A parent who agrees to change the child custody order can work with his or her attorney to fully understand how parental rights may change and to receive assistance in completing the required motion to modify custody.

Changing a Custody Order When Parents Do Not Agree

A parent can also change a child custody order even when the other parent does not agree with the proposed change, but certain conditions must be met. A child custody order can be changed if at least two years have passed since the date of the original order and at least one of the following changes has occurred and is necessary to serve the best interest of the child:

  • A change in the circumstances of the custodial parent
  • A change in the child's circumstances
  • If the parents have joint custody, a change in the circumstances of either or both parents

Examples of circumstances that may qualify as actionable changes include:

  • A parent's remarriage
  • A parent's need to relocate out of the immediate geographic area because of employment
  • Parents with joint custody no longer agreeing on decisions regarding the child
  • The child's health concerns
  • A parent's health concerns

A parent may request a modification of visitation at any time if there is a change in circumstances. A parent may also change custody within two years of the original order if both parents agree. The events that create a change in circumstances must have occurred after the original custody order was entered. In addition, the parent who seeks to change the custody order must demonstrate the change in circumstances, which is a high burden. An attorney can provide valuable assistance throughout the child custody modification process by explaining, protecting and enforcing a parent's rights.